Dentists are noticing an increased number of patients who are coming to their offices with pain caused by cracks in their teeth.
These patients often are "baby boomers" born in the 1950's and early 1960's who grew up before fluoridated water became the norm and before sugarless gum had been developed and marketed. They tend to have more cavities but have most of their teeth.
"It's an interesting new area for dentists," explains Patrick Hann, D.D.S., a general dentist. "We are seeing patients who had fillings placed when they were children, but now these fillings are 30 years old. Like everything else, they have a life span and many have begun to deteriorate, causing teeth to crack."
Anyone who lives long enough and keeps his or her own teeth may eventually have a tooth that cracks. People most prone to cracking a tooth are those who chew on hard objects such as pens, ice or unpopped popcorn kernels, and those who experience bruxism or grinding teeth while sleeping.
"The pain caused by a crack in a tooth is different from other toothache pain and different types of cracks may hurt in different ways," says Dr. Hann. "Toothache pain is a constant ache or you feel sharp pain every time you press on the tooth with your finger. Pain caused by a crack may hurt one time when you press on it but not the next time. It depends on the position of the crack. The tooth may be sensitive to heat or cold, especially cold. The pain may not be severe enough that you take an aspirin or miss school or work. If you have any of these symptoms, it's important to make a dental appointment right away. A minor crack often can be treated with a filling or a crown."
A cracked tooth hurts because the soft inner tissue of the tooth, called the pulp, becomes pinched or irritated as the crack opens and closes. When chewing, pain may occur between bites. When pressure on the tooth is released, the crack comes together and pinches the nerve. Eventually the pulp will become damaged and a root canal procedure will be needed to save the tooth. If treatment is delayed for too long, the tooth may split and will be more difficult to treat successfully.
Cracked teeth can be difficult to diagnose because the pain is elusive and variable. In addition, cracks are not visible on X-rays. Dentists use special illumination or magnification to find the crack. Dyes may be used to follow the course of the crack.
Sometimes cracked teeth cannot be saved. Some cracked teeth will later cause problems after treatment because, unlike a broken bone, a fracture in a tooth doesn't actually heal. Even when a dental crown is placed on the tooth, a crack sometimes can continue to grow. In spite of this, dentists are successfully treating an increasing number of teeth that might have been lost only a few years ago.
"Saving your natural tooth is always preferable to having it extracted and replaced," Dr. Hann says. "A patient may someday lose a badly cracked tooth, but in the meantime, treatment could make it last another 10 years. Most patients prefer to keep their natural teeth rather than have them extracted."
Remember, only a dentist can diagnose your dental problems and offer the right treatment plan for you. If you need a dentist, call us at 1-866-970-0441 to be connected with one today.